In the last few days, Tamil Nadu has been adding cases of novel coronavirus infection at a rate faster than most other states, but it has also been testing many more people. In fact, on Thursday, Tamil Nadu overtook Maharashtra’s testing figures to emerge as the state that has tested the maximum number of samples till now.
As of Thursday evening, Tamil Nadu had tested 202,436 samples while Maharashtra had done 202,105. On Friday, Tamil Nadu conducted another 13,980 tests and Maharashtra 10,245.
In an epidemic like this, where a large proportion of infections remains latent and without any symptom, higher testing usually leads to greater number of infections being discovered. That is why scientists and experts have been asking authorities to scale up testing numbers, so there is a better estimate of the spread of the disease, and more people can be prevented from transmitting the virus.
Maharashtra, which has had more cases than any other state in India, had always maintained a comfortable lead in testing numbers. In the last 10 days, however, Tamil Nadu rapidly ramped up its testing. This period coincided with a surge in new cases being discovered there.
Since April 28, Tamil Nadu has seen its infection numbers grow from 2,058 to 6,009. In the same period, its testing numbers more than doubled from 1.01 lakh to 2.16 lakh. Maharashtra tested 82,419 samples during this time, while its confirmed cases rose from 9,318 to 19,063.
Tamil Nadu has tested at a much faster rate even though Maharashtra has the highest number of testing laboratories in the country — 64. Tamil Nadu has only 52. But Maharashtra has been utilising only 64 per cent of its testing capacity.
Dr Tanu Singhal, an infectious disease expert at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital in Mumbai, suggested that the relatively fewer tests per day could be a deliberate decision by the state government whose medical infrastructure was already overwhelmed by the large number of COVID-19 patients. Another reason for Maharashtra’s below-par testing numbers could be that a part of its testing capacity is located in districts that did not have many cases, and as a result were not testing enough.
However, state officials insisted that Maharashtra was doing more targeted testing, which was the reason for its higher positivity rate. Maharashtra was discovering 8.9 infections for every 100 samples it tested, while Tamil Nadu was finding only 2.6 positive patients per 100 tests.
“Maharashtra has followed a targeted policy. The key indicator is the number of tests coming positive,” said Sanjay Mukherjee, Medical Education Secretary, Maharashtra.
Tamil Nadu said that despite the rapid rise in number of cases, increased testing coupled with effective tracking and quarantining had helped contain the spread of the disease in the state.
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